BEAUTY AND DESTRUCTION
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, often called Port-au-Prince Cathedral, was a cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Built between 1884 and 1914, it was dedicated on December 13, 1928, and became the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince. The roof and the towers flanking the main entrance collapsed in the earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, although the lower parts of the walls remain standing. The earthquake also destroyed the nunciature and the archdiocesan offices, killing Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot instantly and Vicar General Charles Benoit later. The damage to the National Cathedral shows the pain and destruction in Haiti immediately following the earthquake. The growth and strength and rebirth of the infrastructure represent hope. Organizations like the St. Luke Foundation for Haiti work to fulfill that hope.
FOUNDATION ST LUC
The St. Luke Foundation for Haiti is a 100% Haitian-run non-profit organization, providing education, medical care and dignified humanitarian outreach in places that have been under-served by traditional service providers. The foundation provides medical, education and humanitarian outreach programs. The St. Luke Mission Programs include direct service and medical care to over 120,000 patients per year. These patients are seen through a coordinated network of two hospitals, two maternity clinics, two mobile disaster response units, as well as street level psychological care, outreach and social service. The St. Luke School System now includes twenty-eight schools serving 11,000 students ranging from elementary up to high school and professional school.
The St. Luke Outreach Programs include the St. Francisville Production and Training Center, which was founded in 2009 to provide training and employment in food preparation, medical oxygen production, automotive repair and more; the micro-credit and business development team, which helps local entrepreneurs create businesses; clean water deliveries and compassionate care for the deceased, as many families cannot shoulder the financial responsibilities themselves.
The METI Project is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote sustainability in healthcare through medical education, training, and improved infrastructure in under-served areas of the world. Launched in 2013, the METI Project began collaborating with St. Luke’s Foundation immediately. A group of paramedics and paramedic instructors from Professional Ambulance (Pro EMS) and Pro EMS Center for MEDICS traveled to Haiti to prepare themselves for leading future METI teams. Their primary mode of transportation in Haiti was the back of this pick-up truck.
METI volunteers on the inaugural trip arrive at the St. Luke Hospital entrance in the back of a pick-up truck. This kind of truck is often a substitute ambulance, bringing in patients who cannot bring themselves to the hospital. This entrance is spectacularly different than what one sees in the United States.
The St. Luke Hospital building is nothing more than plywood walls and a simple metal roof. Critically ill patients often wait for care in the same large room, separated only by a thin curtain, or nothing at all.
On every METI trip, training is provided for a variety of pieces of equipment in the St. Luke’s Hospital. In October, the METI Project management team secured a donation of UpToDate software for St. Luke’s Foundation. UpToDate is one of the most current and top-notch communications systems for learning about diseases, conditions and treatments used around the world.
Healthcare workers from around the world stay at the Villa Francesca when they come to Haiti. Located approximately three blocks from the St. Luke Family Hospital, Villa Francesca can accommodate up to 40 people in two-bedroom houses. Each house also includes a bathroom, living space and WiFi internet access. A roll and hot coffee are provided each morning, as well a hot lunch mid-day. Guests provide their own dinners.
METI volunteers walk back to Villa Francesca after a ten-hour day at the hospital.
The weather in Haiti is typically quite warm, with an average temperature in the mid-70s all year. Frequent high humidity can make the air feel much hotter than that at times. There are two rainy seasons in certain parts of the country, when the humidity is at its highest, making the air feel warmer than it really is, and flooding occurs daily. Tabarre, the neighborhood where St. Luc Hospital is located, is surrounded by the rest of the Port-au-Prince, which is built along a large ring of mountains. When it rains in the mountains, the runoff floods the streets of Tabarre.
The villas are a great place to retreat after the long, hot days at the hospital. Healthcare workers from around the world stay at Villa Francesca. A United Nations market nearby has good, albeit slightly expensive, food. Dinner is often eaten at wooden picnic benches laid side-by-side. Sometimes as many as six different languages are spoken at once, often talking over each other. Italian, German, French, Creole, Spanish and English coexist in a common purpose.
More than 400 children live in the St. Luke orphanages in Haiti, many abandoned by their families. These children thrive in the care and comfort of the orphanage, appearing to be happy, healthy, and well cared for. To be healthy, cared for and loved in a place where hardship is all too real and death comes far too quickly, can only be described as priceless and divine.
ANGELS OF LIGHT
The Father Wasson Angels of Light (FWAL) program began shortly after the earthquake in 2010. It was initially a collection of tents that children could visit to get away from the misery and destruction around them, and to grab a bite to eat. Over time, it became clear that some of these children had become orphaned by the earthquake. The program has grown considerably and now includes an elementary school, which is attended by children at the orphanage as well as the surrounding community. One METI volunteer described his visit to FWAL: “We visited right after lunch time, so the kids were feeling rambunctious. They were very well-behaved and helped clean up after lunch. Despite their situation, they genuinely seemed incredibly happy.”
Bubbles bring a smile to just about everyone’s face, especially children! The children who live in St. Luke’s orphanages do not own many material goods, but they find joy in everyday experiences anyways. On every METI trip, volunteers visit the baby house, where orphaned children live from birth to age 5, and the older children’s home, for children over 5 years of age. The volunteers bring toys and clothes for the kids, and spend as much time as possible playing games and hanging out. The kids particularly love the technology and devices, such as cell phones, that the METI volunteers carry with them.
Older children in one of the four St. Luke’s orphanages enjoy a newly donated soccer ball during November 2014. METI volunteers were more than happy to join in the games during the evenings, when the heat and humidity eased slightly. The activity provided some relaxation after busy days in the hospital.
A METI volunteer and a resident of the orphanage support each other walking back to one of the orphanage buildings. METI volunteers form quite a bond with the children who live here, aged 5 to 16 years old. When one METI team returned 9 months after their first visit, they were immediately recognized by a child named Michael. Michael ran to Jamie, the volunteer he had come to know best, calling his name with great excitement. The children love reuniting with the volunteers and meeting new ones, especially those with smart phone and tablets and apps to play! There are no video games, handheld devices or internet connections at the orphanage. The kids read books, play checkers and pick-up sticks, share clothes and help take care of each other.
This gorgeous photograph, taken by one of the METI team volunteers during a 2014 trip to Haiti, captures the contrasts that exist in that country – a beautiful sunset, a terrific lightning storm and the barbed wire fence that surrounds the hospital grounds.
Catholic tradition holds that at least one Mass must be held every day so that Catholics may receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ each day. Mass is usually attended by many of the locals and some of the Haitian physicians; after all roughly 80% of Haitians are Catholic. The amount of joy and happiness shared through song at every Mass is astounding, haunting and beautiful all at the same time. The Haitians who attend Mass gather together to give thanks to God for what they have – for what many in the United States would consider so little but is so much in Haiti. In Haiti, nearly every Mass is a funeral service. Death in Haiti is all too common –the average life expectancy is around 62 years old and infant and maternal mortality rates are extremely high.
On one side of this chapel, there are five crosses dedicated to five nuns who died in the earthquake in 2010. On the other side of the chapel, the first five victims of the cholera epidemic from that same year are buried. These ten individuals are a constant reminder of how much has changed in Haiti since the earthquake. The mural in the back of this chapel is painted on wood. During the earthquake, the rose window and the back of the chapel suffered significant damage. However, because the earthquake left so many people homeless, the chapel will not be repaired or rebuilt until everyone in Haiti has a home. The broken chapel serves as a reminder that there is much more work to be done, that the promised recovery has yet to fully materialize.
On an early METI trip, one of the first, a young teen came into the hospital. For years, he had endured teasing and embarrassment because of a sebaceous cyst on his face. The American surgeon who accompanied the METI team that week removed the cyst, and took some delight in seeing the boy’s joy at the change in his appearance. The surgeon later recalled, “I don’t think I quite knew just how happy and grateful he was until the friend who brought him to the hospital saw me the next day, shook my hand, and gave me a huge bear hug. Each day thereafter, this man thanked me, shook my hand, and gave me a hug. At one point, I believe he called me ‘chief’.”